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Fox News had plenty of reasons to get rid of Tucker Carlson.
- Days after agreeing to pay $787 million to settle a lawsuit for pushing false conspiracy theories related to the 2020 election, Fox has now gotten rid of one of the hosts who publicly amplified them.
- Text messages released as part of the lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems unmasked Carlson to be a hypocrite and privately part of the Donald Trump hating elite he publicly criticized when he was playing the role of anchorman on TV.
- It can’t have helped that another lawsuit, brought by a former producer, alleges a toxic workplace environment at Carlson’s show.
What happens now is arguably important not just for Fox, but for the country. The network holds great power in conservative power circles, and it either influences or amplifies the direction of the Republican Party, depending on your perspective.
Just one glaring recent example of this power is that after Carlson asked for unfettered access to Capitol Hill security footage of the January 6 insurrection, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave it to him.
That Carlson used the tapes to create a false impression of January 6, 2021, drew criticism even from notable Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, long a target of Carlson’s flippant put-downs.
By the way, text messages uncovered as part of the lawsuit also show that other Fox personalities, like Sean Hannity, were in contact with and advising White House officials in the Trump administration on January 6.
Fox, like the GOP, has evolved in its politics
From the flag-wrapped post-9/11 period to now, a rotating cast of nighttime anchors has represented different eras. Carlson, once a magazine writer in the mold of George Will, has since mainlined conspiracy theories about the Covid vaccine, embraced an almost anti-government libertarian outlook and encouraged viewers to see themselves as victims of oppression.
The cleanest take I saw after Carlson’s ouster came from CNN’s Oliver Darcy, who noted that Fox hosts come and go, and their power is linked to their platform.
“It is pretty much enshrined as a law of physics in the universe of right-wing media that whoever the Murdochs put in prime time will rate,” Darcy wrote.
Anyone remember Bill O’Reilly? While that former Fox anchor does have a show – it streams on Youtube – he certainly does not play the same role in the political conversation that he did as a Fox host until 2017. Carlson assumed O’Reilly’s time slot.
An anchor everywhere
Carlson is that rare anchor who has now been on all three major cable news networks – CNN, MSNBC and Fox. He also once hosted a program on PBS.
He is, in short, the ultimate professional pundit who has shapeshifted over the course of his decades in front of very different audiences on television.
Text messages privately acknowledging he knew Trump’s election lies were lies unmasked him. But what remains to be seen is whether he will seek to carry the torch for the same audience without the oxygen of a TV show or whether he will shift once more.
“Carlson will test the hypothesis that Fox News as a brand trumps any single personality,” Darcy wrote, adding that Carlson could conceivably turn up elsewhere and command an audience, particularly since Trump has been feuding with the Murdochs who oversee Fox.
What comes next at Fox?
More important than Carlson’s next act will be who the network picks for its prime platform in the most overtly opinionated portion of their programming.
CNN’s Allison Morrow notes that Fox will need a Carlson upgrade of some kind because upstart conservative networks want into the same space.
I watched the first episode of the post-Carlson 8 p.m. ET hour on Fox, and if it is any indication, there won’t be much new in the politics that are pushed on Fox’s viewers.
After a few words about Carlson came a solid bloc of Joe Biden bashing.
‘We’ vs. Democrats
Fill-in host Brian Kilmeade launched into a report about how an FBI agent who has sought whistleblower protection presents a big problem for the Democratic Party.
“They want to bury the story. We do not,” Kilmeade said, intentionally or not placing himself and Fox as the “we” opposite Democrats.
There was also a long montage of clips cut to make fun of Biden’s age and repeated mention of an IRS official who has asked for whistleblower protection to discuss Biden’s son Hunter.
‘The administrative state’
The longshot Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said Biden’s advisers are part of the “the administrative state, the managerial class” and they were perpetrating “elder abuse” by allowing Biden to run.
“It’s the managerial class versus the everyday citizen,” Ramaswamy said of current American life.
Ramaswamy also plugged his new book, which argues that Democrats and capitalists are, somehow, circumventing the Constitution with socially-minded policies known as ESG, or environmental, social and governance investing.
Note: Republicans in the House and Senate, along with a few Democrats, have fought the Biden administration over a policy that allows retirement fund managers to consider the impact of climate change and social factors when picking investments. The evolution of the GOP from the party expected to protect corporations, also evident in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war with Disney, is clearly progressing.
Biden legacy 1
From there, it was on to a report about how, according to Kilmeade, the “crime epidemic under Joe Biden is completely out control.”
Without ever mentioning the possibility that the availability of guns might have something to do with fears of gun violence, the reporter talked about people investing in bulletproofing their cars. On-screen, the words were “Biden’s Legacy: Crime in the Cities.”
Related: Here’s a CNN Fact Check on the crime in Manhattan, which far below record levels.
Biden legacy 2
After declaring crime to be Biden’s legacy, Kilmeade transitioned.
“Meanwhile, another legacy of Joe Biden’s first term is how he has completely destroyed the border,” Kilmeade said, throwing to commercial.
Interviewing a sheriff from Arizona, Kilmeade asked about recent elections in which Arizonans elected a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators.
“Does that say the people of Arizona don’t care?” Kilmeade asked.
‘World on fire’
After immigration, the show turned to foreign policy and the unrest in Sudan.
Rep. Michael Waltz, a Republican who represents Florida in Congress, told Kilmeade the Biden administration’s foreign policy “has the whole world on fire.”
The situation in Sudan, Kilmeade said, “is obviously reminding a lot of people of Preisdent Biden’s disastrous exit from Afghanistan.”
Note: This, actually, could represent a pivot from Carlson, who has grown increasingly and vocally opposed to US involvement in world affairs, particularly with regard to Russia.
‘They’ are coming for your meat
After a segment criticizing weight loss surgery for severely obese teens, it was back to climate change and criticism of a New York Times op-ed regarding meat and climate.
The guest, climate change denier Marc Morano, seemed to make a Nazi reference by invoking the anti-fascist speeches of the German Pastor Martin Niemoller.
While Niemoller was trying to make points about complacency during the rise of Nazis, Morano’s version of the words were about his opposition to curbing carbon emissions.
“First they came for your energy. Then they came for your gas powered cars, your freedom of movement, your cheap flights. And now they’re coming for your food,” Morano said, suggesting New York Mayor Eric Adams would eventually try to outlaw the consumption of meat when in fact he has only pledged to limit the spending of city funds on it.
“They’re going after our modern diet,” Morano said. “You will eat nothing to be happy according to this plan.”
And thus, the diet fed to Fox viewers is unlikely to change, even without its biggest star.